Shrinking Frontal Lobe

It’s a well known fact that the teenage brain lacks a frontal lobe.

As the kid approaches 13 and the official teenage years, I can almost see his frontal lobe shrinking.

For instance. He had a friend over and they were going to record a fan video based on the Avengers Civil War movie. For whatever reason, they needed to have bloodshed in the scene.

“We’re going to use ketchup,” the kid tells me. (They’re preparing to shoot this scene in the living room.)

“You can’t use that inside,” I say. “You’ll get it all over the place, and ketchup stains.”

“We’re going to use it just on our faces,” he says. “It won’t get on anything else.”


“Yes, it will,” I tell him. “If you want to use ketchup, you’ll have to go outside. And take some paper towels so you can wipe it off before you come back in.”

“We don’t need paper towels,” he says. “We’re just going to have it on our faces, and nowhere else.”

“You’re going to need paper towels, because it’s going to get on things,” I say. “Take paper towels with you.”

“But we’re only going to have it on our faces,” he says.

“Do as I say,” I say. “Or forget using the ketchup.”

“Ok,” he says. They go out with the ketchup. They don’t take any paper towels.

A few minutes later, they’re back inside. Covered in ketchup. It’s everywhere. Not just on their faces. They do not consult with me for the next phase of their makeup plans. But I hear them discussing it in the kitchen.

“Ketchup’s too gloppy,” they say.

They’re rummaging through the fridge. “Hey, what about this?” the friend says.

“That’s Sriracha sauce,” the kid says.

“I can squirt that on my face,” the friend says.

“It’s pretty spicy,” the kid says.

“Yeah, but it has a nozzle that’ll get it just on my face.”

I’m picturing him getting it in his eyes. It’s going to hurt like hell. Do I say anything? I remember, they have no frontal lobes. They will not listen to my advice. They will not even obey my command not to use it. Remember. They’re not using paper towels.

They decide to try the scene with Sriracha. No paper towels.

A few minutes later they’re back in. The friend is in pain. He wants water. Lots of water. He has given himself a mouthful of straight Sriracha. He says his face feels tingly.

I let them deal with it. Fortunately, it’s not in his eyes. (I was prepared, had it been in his eyes, to take over and do the eye-wash thing.) They drain the water from the Britta pitcher. They use nearly a whole role of paper towels. The kitchen is a mess.

Later that afternoon, after the friend is gone, I find my cell phone on the floor buried under the costumes from the video shoot. The kid already lost his own cell phone. I see now that mine is the next to go.

Good thing it’s just a $5 burner.

From what I understand, this sort of thing is typical with teenagers. I suppose I was pretty dumb, too, at that age. Losing your frontal lobe is part of growing up, and I’m told that most people find theirs again in their mid-20s.

What’s miraculous, though, is that so many people survive their teens.

What If A Miracle Happened?

I came across this question in a book by Chip and Dan Heath, Switch (Broadway Books, 2010).

More specifically, the question goes:

“Suppose you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles … [you’ve been brooding over] are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign that would make you think, ‘Something must have happened — my problem is gone’?

As it turns out, if you answer this question very specifically you’ve probably just given yourself the first concrete step to solving the problem.

Superheroes Behaving Badly

I had zero interest in seeing the latest Marvel Avengers movie, Captian America: Civil War last weekend, but the kid has been looking forward to it for weeks. So we went.

It seems the superhero movies this spring are about “the good guys” fighting each other. First, Batman vs. Superman. Now this.

I suppose it was just a matter of time until characters whose only way of settling differences is by beating the shit out of people and blowing things up would eventually start beating on each other.

Even so, it was a depressing 2½ hours to watch so many icons-of-might-makes-right behaving badly on the big screen. On the walk home, the kid asked us, “So, who was your favorite character and what was your favorite part.” And I had to tell him I thought there were no winners in that movie.

Movies represent the times. The first Star Wars, with its evil empire, reflected the cold war of the 1970s. The later movies in the franchise (episodes 1-3) reflected the post cold-war struggle to hold together a fragile republic against the terrorist threats of the Sith. Now, in the latest episode, the rise of a terrorist state out of the ashes of the old evil. (Hummmm. I wonder what that’s about.)

It’s hard not to draw connections between the silver screen this spring and the mood of the American landscape.

  • A battle between the protector of Gotham City and its “New York Values” and the champion of “truth, justice and the American way”.

  • A Captain representing the virtue of the American Spirit from its heyday of World War II predominance pitted against a powerful corporate wonk in the employ of a bureaucratic indecisive government.

Can these plots be coincidental? I don’t think so.

Are our superheroes telling us that we’ve lost our way? Or are they warning us about the tragic possibilities inherent in a legacy of using force to resolve differences instead of taking the more difficult but promising path of seeking a more complete understanding of one another?

More worrying, though, is that if our superheroes, our role models, are behaving badly, so might the rest of us.

The trouble with the gods and other immortals (“enhanced humans” as Marvel’s bureaucrats call them) is when they behave badly you cannot kill them. But you can consign them to impotence by ceasing to believe in them.

After the latest 2½ depressing hours of nonstop gratuitous violence, I’ve become an unbeliever hoping a new generation of superheroes — a generation worth believing in — might be just around the corner.

Yellow Belt

The kid got his yellow belt.

It’s actually his second yellow belt. He earned the first one 6 years ago when we were living in Glens Falls. We took Karate together at the YMCA, and we both received our yellow belts the week before we moved away to Jay. There was no Karate in Jay.

When we moved to Potsdam, we found Tai Kwon Do classes as part of the SUNY extension program. But since Tai Kwon Do is different than Karate, the kid had to start over. A disappointment. But also a big motivation. He really wanted to get that yellow belt back.

He has a friend who is a red belt in the same class. This school has a rule that you can’t get your black belt until you’re 16. So the kid now figures he has 4 years to catch up to his friend so they can both get their black belts together.


There is a famous Yoda quote:

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

If only real life were so linear.

I’m a Yoda fan. But the story is fiction. So is the Jedi wisdom.

Anger is a secondary response. First there is always something else. It could be fear, as Yoda says. But it could also be hate or suffering. It could be sadness, shock, or anything that opens a rift between the way things are “supposed to be” and the way they are.

Then, anger is an amplifier of fear, hatred and suffering. Sometimes it gets directed outward, where it inflicts suffering on others. Sometimes it gets directed inward, where it eats away at you until you find a way to resolve or let go of it. Sometimes both.

Seems like for Anakin Skywalker it was both.